Children with physical disabilities face barriers to outdoor recreational activities

Vogt, A. ., Zajchowski, C. ., & Hill, E. . (2022). A ramp that leads to nothing: Outdoor recreation experiences of children with physical disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leisure Studies, 41, 742-752.

Children with physical disabilities regularly experience barriers and constraints to their active participation in outdoor activities. This study explored whether or not the COVID-19 restrictions made it even more difficult for children with physical disabilities to engage in outdoor activities.

Parent interviews were used to collect data for this study, with four parents participating. The parents were recruited from the ‘Mighty Monarchs’ wheelchair sport programme operated by Old Dominion University in Virginia. All of the participants had one or more children (age 6 – 10) who used a wheelchair or crutches for mobility. The interviews were conducted on Zoom and included questions relating to the family experience with outdoor recreation during the pandemic, with a special emphasis on barriers and constraints to outdoor activities. The interviews were taped and transcribed for analysis.

Parent responses indicate that “barriers and constraints were and continue to be present for children with disabilities attempting to access outdoor recreation before and during the pandemic.” While the identified barriers included intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional, community and policy related factors, most of the barriers were at the institutional level. Three out of the four parents indicated that their child did not enjoy outdoor recreation and was not motivated to participate in outdoor activities. Most of the children had not engaged in outdoor recreation with friends since the start of the pandemic. A dominant theme emerging from all four interviews related to lack of access to playgrounds, parks, pools, and beaches. Parents noted how many of the barriers relating to design and construction, disability-specific knowledge, and architecture and construction policies all existed prior to the pandemic. “One particularly salient finding from these data involved the differentiation parents made between the constraints of children with physical and intellectual/development disabilities.” A number of actionable steps designed to help municipalities provide more inclusive access for children in outdoor and nature-based settings are offered.

This research contributes to the literature by identifying barriers and constraints limiting the opportunities for children with physical disabilities to participate in outdoor and nature-related experiences and offering suggestions for improvements.

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